A/N This fanfic takes place about two years before the events in Avatar. All characters featured are my own, while the A:TLA world proper and concepts belong to Brian, Mike, and Nickelodeon.
"Friday night, and the strip is hot (hot!)/ Sun's gone down, and they're about to trot/Spirits high and they look hot/ Oh, do you wanna get down!" Bad Girl, Donna Summer.
Pomegranate Blossom Month, Tenth Night.
A waning moon hung above the vast city of Ba Sing Se, plating its roofs and monumental walls with silver light. Here and there, the golden light of torches and braziers, flickering in windows and recesses, playing over stone and tile, acted as miniature suns, driving back and complementing the moonlight.
At the mouth of an alleyway in the Middle Ring, this same torchlight gropingly, tentatively illuminated the form of a young woman wearing an ornate purple kimono and geta, her hands clasped together across her chest under the voluminous embroidered sleeves.
For perhaps the 18th time in the two and a half hours she'd been standing here, Mizumi carefully, cautiously raised her face to the moon, its disk as white as the makeup covering her face. A small smile of appreciation and even a sort of kinship curved her scarlet lips. After all, she did take her name from it.
What her darting green eyes were really focused on though, what made her heart thud just a little louder in her ears, were the nearby rooftops and any patches of darkness big enough to potentially conceal a man. Or two, for that matter.
It wasn't that Mizumi really feared being assaulted or harmed by the less savory men in Ba Sing Se. After all, she was an Earthbender. Not exactly an accomplished one, true, but still capable enough when it came to flinging stone around. The fact that she was plying her trade without the usual male attendant and guardian in tow was proof enough of that.
What Mizumi feared was being spotted by the Dai Li.
For she was one of Ba Sing Se's oiran, or prostitutes. Known by their white makeup and ornate wigs, complex, heavy affairs held together with tortoiseshell combs and broad pins, they haunted the city's alleys and street corners in flamboyant embroidered kimonos, ready to accept an eager man's money in exchange for giving him a night of passion in a nearby inn or brotherel. There were always plenty of takers.
The Dai Li of course, knew that prostitution existed in their city, and naturally did not approve in the least. Their attitude towards any oiran discovered on their beat though, seemed to vary depending on location.
Mizumi knew well that as a general rule, the Dai Li turned a blind eye to oiran who worked in the Lower Ring, although now and again an agent would arrest one of her fellow streetwalkers to keep up appearances, or if she was being too disruptive to ignore. And sometimes they did it just for something to do on their shift.
The Middle Ring however, was a whole different earthball game. For the most part, its more respectable inhabitants really, really frowned on having oiran walking their streets. And that meant the agents who patrolled it did too.
As for the Upper Ring, only the bravest or foolhardiest of oiran would even consider showing her alabaster face there.
It was the Middle Ring Mizumi was working tonight.
It was a pretty significant risk, she knew, and Tu Gong help her if an agent came her way! But she'd also had a tough time luring in the men during the past several nights...and the people in this ring of the city paid her so well for her services too. If she performed well for a guy both in bed and in witty conversation, he might even give her a handsome tip!
Her thoughts were cut off when she heard footsteps approaching from her right, accompanied by a trio of male voices loudly speaking among themselves in slurred tones and laughing like hyena-mastiffs about Tu Gong knew what. Clearly they'd been hitting the fen jiu pretty hard at the local tavern.
With a deep breath, she strode forward, moving out of the alley's cover and into the torch lit street where these potential customers could see her.
One of the men was speaking.
"And I tell Cui, 'Hey Cui, Ba Sing Se University sent a notice. They want their hog-monkey back! Harr harr harr!" he laughed, his two friends doing the same.
Their heads snapped in her direction as Mizumi, curving her lips into a seductive smile, sultrily replied, "My, my, that is a good one indeed."
Blinking, the three men stared at her in mixed wonder and interest.
"Hey, you're an oiran," one of them slurred.
"That I am handsome," she silkily replied.
Flattered, he held his head up in liquor-induced pride.
"It looks like you boys are coming back from a party," she went on.
"Yeah," the first man said, grinning. "We're just coming back from Xiao's place."
"We got so wasted!" his friend cackled.
"Well," Mizumi offered, brushing her fingers over his chest, "how about you end the night with a bang? In more ways than one," she hinted as all three men laughed at her slightly lewd play on words.
Lips peeling back in a drunken grin, he replied, "I'll show you all about bangi-"
Suddenly one member of the trio snapped his head up, his green eyes expanding in terror.
"Holy camelephant shit, it's the Dai Li! Run!" he shouted.
Galvanized by horror, Mizumi swore herself as she kicked off her geta and the three men scattered in different directions. Turning to run, she heard two pairs of stone shoes crash against the street about two zhang behind her, one on each side.
"Halt!" a male voice bellowed.
Ducking into the alley, she ran like a hunted fox antelope in only her socks, using her earthbending to propel herself across the stone in a skating motion. But the Dai Li could play that game too, and a horrified Mizumi heard the scrape of their granite clogs on the flagstones steadily getting louder in her ears. They were going to catch her!
Oh Tu Gong oh Tu Gong oh Tu Gong oh Tu Gong she mentally squealed in rhythm with the panicked beat of her heart.
The scraping grew closer, and now Mizumi went into a full-out slide. She dodged around corners, zigzagged, did everything she could to lose both agents. But it wasn't enough.
They were just too close, and Mizumi heard the whoosh of a pair of stone gloves through the air. Seconds later, she felt them crash against and clamp onto her slender arms with an iron grip, yanking her to a sudden stop.
All she could do was cry out as her arms were jerked behind her back by the rock gloves and securely handcuffed. She jumped and struggled briefly, then gave up. Resistance would get her nothing but bruises.
"Turn around oiran. Don't you try anything funny," one of the agents stonily commanded.
Knowing the hopelessness of her position, Mizumi could do nothing but obey, head held down as she shakily faced both Dai Li. She was more than a little petrified, but also knew that as long as she followed Madam Tsao's advice and behaved both politely and submissively, the chances of them actually harming her were pretty slight. And they weren't going to waste their time subjecting a mere hooker to some "reconditioning."
Most likely, they would simply make her pay a fine and then escort her out of the Middle Ring. Or they might bring her to headquarters for questioning and processing before cutting her loose.
Either way, it was no big deal, she reassured herself, taking a deep, fortifying breath as she met the gaze of both men. After all, it wasn't like she'd been caught stealing or smuggling drugs or plotting to overthrow the Earth King, right?
The agent who'd caught her was still in his original position, arms outstretched and fingers splayed. He looked to be about 27-almost as young as she was-with a lean and rectangular face.
His partner was older, probably in his mid thirties she judged, with a somewhat darker skin tone and a broader head with smaller eyes.
"Nice work Xun," the older agent said before striding up to Mizumi, green eyes regarding her critically underneath the brim of his hat.
"What is your name, oiran?" he snapped.
"Mizumi Hamamura," she replied, giving the agent a mild smile that she hoped would appease him. There was always the possibility that with her youth and beauty, she might be able to charm her way out of a fine.
"Miss Hamamura, you are aware that your trade is strictly forbidden in the Middle Ring of this city, is it not?" the agent growled as he began to circle her. She knew he was doing it to make her feel all the more trapped, to intimidate her and put her on edge.
"Yes sir," she wisely replied, her teeth set together by tension. You didn't dare lie to a member of the Dai Li, not if you wanted to leave the scene in one piece.
"And you know that as the guardians of our city's-your city's-cultural and moral values, we strictly forbid your type from coming into the Middle Ring and exposing its citizens to your lewd activities," he spat.
"Yes sir, I am aware of that."
With the older agent having moved out of her field of vision for the moment, Mizumi focused on Xun, the younger agent. His hands were still outstretched, maintaining the firm grip on her wrists through his projected chi.
But his gaze was elsewhere, thoughtfully assessing her even as she looked back at him. His eyes were as focused and stern as those of a pygmy puma about to pounce, as one would expect from a member of the Dai Li on active duty. But there was something else in them as well.
It was an appreciative sort of look, one that drifted and lingered over her body from head to toe, drinking in her graceful feet, the rainbow of silk that was her kimono, the slender white column of her neck, and the pair of flaring wings at the back of her wig. Obviously he found her more than a little alluring.
Flattered, Mizumi stood erect and then slightly thrust out her chest to give the younger man a better look at her breasts.
He curved his lips in a faint smile of pleasure and appreciation at the gesture.
Well, well, she thought. At least one agent found her more than a little desirable. Could this be used to her advantage?
"But I'd say from your presence here that you don't seem to appreciate that fact, Miss Hamamura," the senior agent growled, almost shoving his face right into hers. There was a pause as she briefly held his glowering gaze, and then meekly turned away as he went on, "Perhaps a 25 jin fine will teach you to stay where you belong."
Tu Gong damn it, she inwardly groaned. That was more money than she really wanted to part with. But what if she could somehow bribe them to overlook this transgression? Glancing at Xun, she was suddenly struck by an audacious idea.
Standing up straight, she purred, "Oh, what do you Dai Li agents need with 25 more jin, especially of a hardworking lady's money?"
"After all," she went on, giving both of them a small smile, "you agents get paid so well already for the invaluable work you do to keep our city safe and order-"
"Enough!" the senior agent barked. "I know damn well what you're trying to do oiran, and if you think you can charm your way out of paying your fine, think again!"
"Oh, let her talk on Bai," Xun said dismissively. "Things have been dull around here during the past few nights, so we're hardly in a need to rush. Besides, I enjoy hearing a woman saying flattering things about me."
Heartened and hopeful, Mizumi gave a chiming laugh and carefully continued, "Well, Tu Gong knows I can say many things in praise of you two and your fellow agents, who do so much to keep order and the peace in this wonderful city, to say nothing of protecting and keeping alive the ancient, priceless cultural heritage of Ba Sing Se!"
Bai couldn't help but give a small smile of pride at her words. "Yeah, no one does it like us. But oiran, that still doesn't change-"
"And oh, what stewards, what officers!" she boldly went on. "You agents are perfect, gods among men, handsome beyond compare."
"Hell yeah we are!" Xui exuberantly grinned. "We're not only Earthbending badasses, we're smoking hot Earthbending badasses! Isn't that right Bai?"
"You know it," he replied smoothly.
"How about you two show me just how perfect your bodies are in exchange for forgetting about fining me for being a bad girl?" Mizumi suggested, curving her hips into as seductive a posture as she could manage with the stone shackles.
Both agents were shocked.
"Nice try oiran, but if you think you can somehow bribe us out of administering justice by offering sex, you're either crazy as a hog-monkey or just an utter moron," Bai scoffed.
"You're sure bold, I'll give you that much," Xun grunted. "But it ain't going to happen. Just pay up and we can all get on with our lives, okay?"
"Come on," she cooed to them as she shuffled a quarter turn, giving both agents a look at the two white spikes of paint which erotically graced her nape. "I know how to show men a good time, and I bet you Dai Li are amazing under the covers. I know you find me attractive," she added, giving Xun a meaningful glance, "and we both know you want it."
Giving a sheepish grin, the younger agent tilted his head to conceal his face with his hat as he admitted, "Guilty as charged I guess. And look, miss, if you want to get in the sack with me at a later time-"
"Xun! Have you no shame or decency?"
"I can visit you either at your place or at some inn in the Lower Ring after my shift. But not now. That's just not cool."
"Surely you two can't be thinking of passing a chance like this up," she wheedled. "Again, I know how to satisfy a man in bed. Make him feel like a Firebender," she promised.
It was enough to make Xun give in.
"Okay, I guess I'm game," he volunteered.
"WHAT?" Bai yelled, his head snapping around. "Good Tu Gong, are you completely insane Xun?" he hissed. "You're actually going to accept sex from an oiran in exchange for letting her off the hook? You know damn well that's six kinds of illegal, to say nothing of just plain wrong!"
"I know, but really Bai, what's 25 jin to our coffers? It's not even dew in the air. And don't tell me you don't think she's worthy of drilling too. I mean, that face, that lovely wig, those eyes..."
"I agree that she looks awfully tempting, but-"
"Ah, I knew it," Mizumi victoriously grinned. "I knew I turned you on too!"
"That doesn't mean I'm going to betray my principles, no matter how sexy and fuckab-GAAHH!" the agent went in frustration, throwing his granite encased hands up in the air.
"Aw, you're so cute when you're flustered Bai," Xun drawled. "But seriously, how about it? Our shift's nearly over anyhow. And nobody is going to think that we're doing anything else with her other than taking her in for questioning."
"Listen to what you're saying Xun! If we got caught, Long Feng would make us beg for death!"
"Well, what Long Feng doesn't know won't hurt him, right? Besides, he'll probably be sleeping at this hour...and in the palace at that."
Bai gave a weary, defeated sigh.
Turning to an expectant Mizumi, he informed her, "All right Miss Hamamura, your unorthodox proposal is accepted."
"See?" she smiled. "I knew a pair of-"
"But under one condition," the agent broke in, holding up a finger to silence her. "First, you are to never tell anyone, no matter how much you may want to brag, no matter how much someone may try to make you, no matter how drunk you may be, about what will occur between the three of us. You are to take this knowledge to the grave. Is that clear?"
"Second, when we reach a certain point on our way back to our headquarters and barracks, you shall be blindfolded for purposes of security. Only when we are inside Dai Li headquarters will the blindfold be removed."
"So I'll spend that part of the trip blindfolded."
"How wonderfully kinky." Mizumi purred, the corners of her mouth curling upward in anticipation.
The Dai Li smut begins in earnest next chapter as Bai and Xun extract their "payment" from Mizumi!
Oiran were a class of professional prostitutes/conversationlists/entertainers in Edo period Japan. To go into more detail about their ways would be beyond the purpose of this fic, but they were in a completely different class from geishas, and traveled with a much bigger retinue then portrayed here. Immortal Geisha is a great website to learn more about the oiran. You can see a lovely photo of a woman dressed as one for a festival at trekearth dot com.
Mizumi's name means "beautiful moon" in Japanese, while Bai and Xun's mean "cypress" and "swift" respectively.